nonfiction nuggets…Native American life in the 19th century

We Rode the Wind: Recollections of Native American Life, compiled and edited by Jane B. Katz

As a young boy, Hakadah watched a thrilling battle between two grizzly bears and three buffalo.  Can you imagine?!  John Stands in Timber recollects the precise manner in which the old Cheyenne storytellers would solemnly prepare to tell their historic tales with the Creator as witness.  Two Leggings shares memories of a first war partyand his vision quest, while Waheenee tells about her marriage arrangements and a grievous smallpox epidemic.

We Rode the Wind is a collection of Native American literature illuminating life on the Great Plains prior to white settlement.  As Jane Katz says in her preface, “As narrators of their people’s past, [Plains] historians were knowledgeable, perceptive, and honest.  But many of the writers spoke only their native language and had to rely on translators to put their ideas into English.  For the most part these translators were skillful and sincere.  Yet Indian languages are diverse and complex…Furthermore, most of the interpreters were white and tended to change the writings to make them more appealing to white readers.  Thus, as with any translation, some of the flavor and spontaneity of the original Indian works were lost.”  Katz sought material for this collection which was faithful to the spirit and wording of the Indian authors.

There are selections by Charles A. Eastman (Dakota), John Stands In Timber (Cheyenne), Two Leggings (Crow), Chief Luther Standing Bear (Lakota), William Whipple Warren (Ojibway), Waheenee (Hidatsa), Jim Whitewolf (Kiowa-Apache), and Black Elk (Lakota).

These memoirs recount fascinating details of home life, child-rearing, governance, artistry, good manners and rudeness, religious beliefs, seasonal tasks, marriage ceremony, food, sacred dance, and more.  But they are not given to us in textbook style; the writings are warmly personal, deliciously full of detail.  We are hearing the words of elderly men and women recalling their extraordinary lives; reading, as it were, a letter or diary telling us about their days. 

Plenty of photos, mainly black and white, and fine art reproductions are sprinkled among the pages, as well as short biographical sketches introducing each one’s account, helpful notes, and a list of sources for those who would like to read the full, original work.  This is an excellent introduction to this segment of Native North Americans which could be read aloud to children as young as 7, yet enjoyed by adults as well.

Here’s an Amazon link:    We Rode the Wind (Recollections of Native American Life)